The Wicker Tree

Director: Robin Hardy (2010)
Starring: Brittania Nicol, Henry Garrett, Graham McTavish, Christopher Lee
Find it: IMDB

A spiritual sequel to The Wicker Man. It certainly feels very in keeping with a Wicker Man film, but perhaps not the one Robin Hardy had in mind. I would not have been surprised to see Nicolas Cage running around this movie in a bear suit, punching women in the face.

Based on Hardy's own novel, Cowboys for Christ (how much better is that for a title?) The Wicker Tree sees a wholesome Texan gospel singer (Nicol) and her boyfriend Steve (Garrett) travel to bonny Scotland in order to convert the heathens they find there. Scotland is a cheerier place than Frankie Boyle would have you believe; full of smiley pagans, cheeky wee sexpots and cheerful murderers. Beth is chosen to play Queen at the village's annual big hippy festival - but we all know how that turned out for Sergeant Howie and Sheriff Malus, don't we? NOT THE BEES.

I hadn't thought it possible, but The Wicker Tree is every bit as tonally useless and inconsistent as Neil LaBute's infamous misfire. Everything about it plays like a comedy; and not even a black one. Cowboys and villagers alike give broad, buffoonish performances that make Nicolas Cage's look calm and considered in comparison. HOW'D IT GET BURNED.

This isn't helped by a bizarre streak which has Beth seeing the ghost of her slutty pre-Christian self slutting about in her hotel room, and some inappropriate physical comedy from the creepy butler. The reference will be lost on anyone outside of the UK above (or below) a certain age, but there's even an appearance from Trent from off've My Parents are Aliens. I actually enjoyed this more than I did Christopher Lee's cameo, because My Parents are Aliens is probably my favourite kids' television programme ever (because Batman cartoons obviously don't count as kids' TV). Maybe if Lee had played a bigger role, as planned, The Wicker Tree would seem less daft, but it's doubtful.

Against all odds, the ending is interesting and actually approaches the original Wicker Man in its cruelty. Sadly it's accompanied by the same stunning stupidity as the rest of the movie and just seems as funny as Nicolas Cage with a bee-box on his head. I enjoyed The Wicker Tree, but for all the wrong reasons.

Strippers vs Werewolves

Director: Jonathan Glendening (2012)
Starring: Robert Englund, Billy Murray, Adele Silva, Martin Compston
Find it: IMDB

When I was seventeen, I sat down one night to watch Hellraiser for the first time. It was during a sex scene when my father walked in. Face full of guilt, I looked up at dear old pop and said, "I'm not watching porn, Dad. It's Hellraiser. Honest." He promptly left the room. The look of disappointment said "I wish it was porn, son, I wish it was." It's this mindset one should bear in mind, dear reader, when I say, in this review of Strippers vs Werewolves, that there far far too many strippers and not nearly enough werewolves.

Martin Kemp is a werewolf and attacks stripper Adele Silva from off've Emmerdale, who proceeds to kill him with a silver pen. But werewolf Martin Kemp has some seriously dangerous buddies, and soon his gangster werewolf mates (led by Billy Murray, who will apparently do anything from Eastenders to vampire films to insurance adverts for a few quid) are out for revenge. I'll probably get my penis for rescinded for saying this, but Strippers vs Werewolves is remarkably not-sexy. What can I say, good acting is hot.

Adele Silva (famous for Emmerdale and going to Hollywood - and finding herself working in a shop* there) is borderline unwatchable, pouting like an even worse Kristen Stewart and giving the same whispery line delivery for everything. Amongst the actresses, there's not a single good performance. Which is what happens when you let the readers of Nuts Magazine dictate your cast. Lucy Pinder, really? The blokes fare slightly better, with Martin Compston handling most of the real acting stuff. Billy Murray does exactly the same thing as he does in everything, but it works okay here. The more jokey tone makes it easier to handle here than it is in serious stuff like Dead Cert (essentially the same film but worse), Eastenders and those stupid insurance adverts he was in. His pairing with Robert Englund feels oddly right, even if they do just stand and growl at one another for five minutes. Englund's cameo is fun, although given the quality of the film, maybe this American Werewolf should have stayed out of London.

Strippers vs Werewolves is watchable - and even funny in places - but not once was I under the impression that it's anything but a fluffy hunk of shit. With the death of Martin Kemp went my hopes. Strippers vs Werwolves is the sort of movie in which the characters' names pop up next to them as they appear in the film. The makeup effects are sort of original (the 'wolves remain humanoid, save for sideburns, beards and teeth) but look terrible beyond that novelty. The script is annoying (it's just people repeatedly saying "naughty this," "naughty that") and the music is awful. The final fight is completely devoid of wit, tension or action. It offers neither of the things promised in the title: the strippers never strip and the werewolves neither look nor act like werewolves. It's a spiritual sequel to Lesbian Vampire Killers.

Strippers vs Werewolves ends with a character making the bold statement: "films don't have to be art to be fun." Strippers vs Werewolves is neither.

*The only proper links I could find were to The Daily Mail and The Sun. Fuck off if you think I'm linking to that.

City of the Living Dead

Thanks to Lee from The Hougly Film Journal for suggesting this one.
Do the same here.

Director: Lucio Fulci (1980)
Starring: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo
Find it: IMDB

Watching Lucio Fulci's infamous video nasty for the first time, there were a number of things I expected to see and hear. Things like "at some stage, every girl wants to marry her own father" are par for the course, as are maggot-ridden zombies, traumatised eyeballs and various dodgy sounding lines of dialogue. What I didn't expect City of the Living Dead to do, however, was (briefly) melt my heart.


It does attack someone moments later though (not in a zombie way), so it's not as though Fulci is going soft. But I keep coming back to that kitty whenever City of the Living Dead gets too hard to handle. Ew, maggots. Just look at the picture of the puddy tat until the Bad Thing goes away.

Meanwhile, in a Dunwich graveyard, a tormented clergyman commits suicide, unwittingly opening the Gates of Hell as he does so. A reporter and a psychic travel to the town (not a city, then) to close the Gates before the dead can overtake the Earth for their own. Not just any zombies, though: super powered zombies with super strength, teleportation and levitation abilities. Never mind the fast zombies/slow zombies debate - the question on everyone's lips is whether they should be able to levitate where they please in their search for brains to nom.

Eagle eyed horror fans will recognise Dunwich from HP Lovecraft's short story The Dunwich Horror. It's a nice nod from Fulci and the film has a very Lovecraftian feel to it. Cthulu would definitely approve of the bleeding eyeballs and teleporting zombies. A scene in which a woman vomits up her own internal organs is the most disgusting thing I have seen in a very long time (since, oh, the eyeball poke in Zombie Flesh Eaters). Just close your eyes and think of the kitty. There's also a bit where the windows of a house fly open and the residents are sprayed with a barrage of maggots. Given that I have a minor phobia of maggots, watching these poor schmoes standing up to their ankles in a writhing puddle of maggots made my stomach turn.  

Adding to the atmosphere is the soundtrack. As is peculiar to Italian zombie films of the time, it sounds a lot like something out of Romero's Dawn of the Dead, but is grimmer and even more Gothic here. It compliments the visuals perfectly. And other than the visuals and the music, there isn't much to City of the Dead. It has more of a story than The Beyond (which is like a sort of sketch show from hell) but becomes fairly incomprehensible towards the end.  

City of the Dead is classic Fulci horror. It makes very little sense, but that hardly matters. If the man who brought us a zombie fighting a shark has taught us anything, it's that re-animated corpses don't need a reason.

From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter

Director: PJ Pesce (1999)
Starring: Marco Leonardi, Michael Parks, Rebecca Gayheart, Danny Trejo
Find it: IMDB

The Dusk Till Dawn franchise returns to The Titty Twister bar, its own roots and early 1900s' Mexico for a respectable outing that's less disappointing than Texas Blood Money but still not quite as good as the original piece. It's cowboys versus vampires with Danny Trejo and a stupid snake thing.

Where I went into Texas Blood Money with unrealistically high expectations, I switched onto The Hangman's Daughter with stupidly low ones. After a set up that takes way too long (I was beginning to question whether there would ever be any vampires in the film) this threequel quickly becomes a lot of fun. Michael Parks plays an alcoholic atheist and uses the phrase "flatulating explosions". There's a bit where a vampire sucks off a horse. Drinks its blood, I mean. The ensuing action is fast paced, gory and ridiculous. The special effects are good too, although vampire Danny Trejo looks completely different in this to what he did in the original film and Texas Blood Money. Amongst the humans, there's no-one to quite match up to George Clooney or Robert Patrick, but Michael Parks is good in the relatively short screentime he gets. Its lead hardman bandito, Johnny Madrid (Leonardi) is boring and uncharismatic by comparison.  

Again, the story follows a band of criminals escaped and on the run from the law. They kidnap the titular hangman's daughter and ride off into the sunset, where the Titty Twister awaits. The decor has changed, but it's obviously the Twister - Danny Trejo is working the bar. I get bored after half an hour at work; Danny Trejo has stacked up over 100 years working at the same bar. Talk about job satisfaction. Vampires, naturally, ensue in the mother of all bar brawls. But what did you expect from a pub with Danny Trejo behind the bar? Following Texas Blood Money, the Titty Twister has since been renovated into a Wetherspoon's. It's only marginally worse than before.

The dalliance back to the (very) early 20th Century makes it feel like more than just a rehash of the original (although it is). The Hangman's Daughter is a fun, funny prequel with enough originality and wit to not besmirch the original piece's name. Coming straight to DVD all the way from 1999, it's ironic cowboys vs vampires before ironic mashups were really a thing.

From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money

Director: Scott Spiegel (1999)
Starring: Robert Patrick, Bo Hopkins, Duane Whitaker
Find it: IMDB

From Dusk Till Dawn might just be my favourite ever vampire movie. Not only is George Clooney awesome in it, but it has a great script by Quentin Tarantino (the less said about his acting the better) and Robert Rodriguez at the top of his directorial game. With From Dusk Till Dawn, Rodriguez and Tarantino did absolutely everything that their Grindhouse (which I still enjoyed) failed to accomplish. Along with Con Air and Tim Burton's Batman films, From Dusk Till Dawn is one of the few movies I'll watch absolutely every single time it comes on TV. However, it has taken me until now to seek out and see its sequel.

I almost wish I'd not bothered. While Scott Spiegel does a good job of aping the visual style and tone of the original movie, Texas Blood Money is an enormous disappointment. Hopes are briefly buoyed with an early cameo from one Bruce Campbell and a leading role for the underrated Robert Patrick - but that is all dashed by a boring script, rubbish characters and uninteresting action. Much like the previous film, Texas Blood Money follows a gang of criminals on the lam from the law. On his way to their hotel, one of their number is attacked by a bat and then happens across the Titty Twister bar (via an all-too-brief cameo from Danny Trejo). 

Despite the fact we all know what the Dusk Till Dawn title heralds, this sequel insists on also being a movie of two halves. Unfortunately, its criminals aren't as interesting as the Gecko brothers and there's no Harvey Keitel or Juliette Lewis to distract from the fact that the protagonists are all asshole bank robbers. Robert Patrick is a likeable presence - I envy the shit out of that quiff - but the action sequences aren't up to the same standard as George Clooney had to play with. Nor are the special effects or makeup much cop. An over-reliance on crappy toy bats really hurts the first half, while even the vampire makeup manages to convince. Most of all, it suffers from a lack of tension and reason for being.

Don't be fooled by the "from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez" that someone cheekily slapped on the poster; they executive produced the film in the same way as I executive produce my dinner every night. "MOTHER. I WANT CHIPS FOR DINNER. WITH PIE." Just because the pie and chips were my idea somewhere along the line, don't mean I cooked no pie and chips. Or indeed anything, ever. As with his Hostel sequel, Scott Spiegel goes through the same motions as his more famous predecessor but fails to emulate what made that film great in the first place. The action does get better during the last half hour though, and it ends on a sweet little note.

Texas Blood Money is not a terrible movie by any means, but it makes for a bad sequel to one of my favourite films of all time. Those with less affection for the original piece may enjoy it more. For everyone else, it's perhaps best left as an intriguingly garish DVD cover buried in the corner of your local rental place.

Choose Your Own Adventure. BUT WITH REVIEWS.

Alas, I have been remiss with the reviews of late. Blame this on my working pretty much full time in a real job (in a shop. With people and everything!) and having an enormous workload with Horrortalk and Starburst reviews. In an effort to generate some content and get myself writing again, I'm opening up the floor to you guys.

You guys.

Don't worry, you don't have to do any real work. All you have to do is nominate some films you want me to watch and review. I'm keen to see what gets recommended and to write about something I maybe wouldn't otherwise. So e-mail me, facebook me, twat me or just comment on something. You'll get a mention (and a link if you like) and I'll watch literally anything. 

Except for The Fucking Goonies.